Stop Dog Barking: Teach the "Quiet" Command
by Dennis Fetko, Ph.D.
What can we do about problem barking? Well, first realize that barking isn't bad. Excess barking is bad. Barking to warn you that someone's trying to break into your home is great! Barking about a gas leak, the baby crying, or smoke or a fire is also a plus. Barking because a butterfly landed in a bush a block away is nonsense. If the dog is still barking ten minutes after the mailman left, or if he won't stop barking when you tell him to, you've got a problem.
Chronic barking can get a dog into a spiral of stressful behavior that he can't get out of without your help. Excessive barking is bad for your dog as it can cause systemic damage like ulcers and other medical problems.
Teaching the "Quiet" Command
Behavioral therapy to control barking is not only gentle, but fun; it's usually very successful; and it's very long-lasting. Teach the dog that the word "quiet" means to stop barking. The simplest way to do that is to have the dog with you, get him to bark by excited play or whatever--bark at him, he'll mimic you. Then after a few barks, gently hold his mouth shut as you say "quiet".
He has to be quiet because you're holding his mouth shut. You then praise him lavishly for being quiet with something like "Good quiet, that's it, good quiet!!" Repeat that a few times and soon the word "quiet" will be learned.
This may also be the first time the dog was praised a lot for shutting up. Once the dog knows what "quiet" means and that it's lavishly rewarded, you begin to communicate effectively in an actual situation. When the dog begins to bark at something, the first thing you say is, "Good dog, that's it!" "Good speak!" That ought to confuse the little whipper! It may be the first time you praised him for barking.
Your voice is excited and full of praise. You immediately follow that with a neutral, "okay" and then a firm "quiet". Then, of course, you reward the silence by sincerely praising the dog for shutting up. The entire routine sounds like this: "Good dog, good speak!" "Okay." "Quiet." "Good quiet!!!" Goooood quiet!" There! You've just successfully communicated exactly what you mean to the dog--that it's okay to bark at the stranger, but after the initial alert, stop.
If you begin this precise routine when the dog is young and just beginning to bark at things, you can avoid a barking problem by conditioning the dog to let out one burst and then shut up automatically. That initial burst told the intruder that there's a dog inside and it told you there's someone outside. That's all--it's over! Anything more than that and you risk losing control of the vocal process.
The same procedure works with the adult dogs, too. Naturally it takes longer to break a bad habit than train in a new one, but it's done successfully all the time. Age is no barrier to controlling a problem as long as the problem isn't physical or medical.
Finally, your efforts to control your dog's barking will be most successful if you determine why your dog is barking excessively so you can ameliorate those circumstances. Is he barking to protect his territory, because his environment is excessively stimulating, from confinement or isolation, boredom, or even because his barking is being inadvertently rewarded.
Additionally, an overly dominant dog is a prime candidate for excessive barking. If the household lacks authority, the dog will assert his pack superiority and literally yell his way to success.
There are many okay barking circumstances, so you want to control the act, not eliminate it. Don't teach the dog that all barking is bad, because that's not true. Control is the key here, and this may be the first and only time that that's so. With most problems, your goal is to eliminate them.
With barking your goal should be to teach discrimination. You'll never be glad your dog bit you, but there sure are times you'll be glad he barked.
About the Author
The author, Dennis Fetko, Ph.D., "Dr. Dog", is a world-renowned animal behaviorist whose accomplishments range from appearing on the 20/20 television show to making a presentation at the South American Veterinary Congress. Dr. Fetko's audios and ebooks detail his fast, easy--and even fun--methods to eliminate your dog's behavior problems. Learn more at http://drdogsbehaviorsolutions.com.